2005 Wednesday Journal Endorsements
More than any other elected body in Oak Park, the village board is in desperate need of a strong leader who can bring meaningful change, both in policy and in tone.
For the last four and especially the last two years, this board and its president have been rightfully characterized as divisive, petty and disrespectful toward each other and the public and unable to quickly reach decisions?#34;to the frustration of not just rabble-rousers, but of the business community and everyday citizens.
We are disturbed that Village Manager Carl Swenson appears to have the clearest vision for where Oak Park should go. And while we think he has taken Oak Park in many positive directions, we feel the board has not stepped up and made a concerted effort to drive policy. They are reacting, rather than running the show. They meet too much and accomplish too little.
Due to these concerns and many more, we were eagerly awaiting local elections. And we had our own hypothetical village president in mind. Someone who would not bring a fragile ego with them to board meetings. Someone with a clear sense of what Oak Park should keep, leave behind and become. A candidate who could truly consider input from everyone in this community, including fellow board members when making decisions. A president who could direct policy, but treat village staff with respect. Someone able to bring the board together to efficiently get things done, who is also capable of making both "gut" and well-reasoned decisions.
A candidate who resembles the past presidents we admire most: John Gearen, Jim McClure, Sara Bode and John Philbin.
With these things in mind, we interviewed each of the three candidates, all members of a village board which bedevils us. And though we strongly believe they will all bring positive change, we also strongly believe each is conspicuously lacking at least one, if not more, of the qualities we find to be essential.
However, like all voters in Oak Park, we had to make a choice. And our choice is: Robert Milstein, by a nose and with reservations.
? Two years ago, Bob Milstein was our "least preferred" trustee candidate. To endorse him now for village president is certainly a complete 180, requiring some detailed explanation. So, we will begin with the positives.
Milstein has grown into the role of trustee. We have been surprised by his ability to listen to not just some of the crankier people who backed him, but also the business community, as exemplified by his shift from his total support of a complete smoking ban to a compromise. More than other candidates, his decisions are most deeply impacted by the people he hears from, and that is not a quality to be quickly dismissed.
Though some of his fellow board members have painted him as crazy, we agree with many of his "gut" decisions. There's nothing wrong with killing a quorum by walking out of an unnecessarily late night meeting. Sometimes it's OK to let a woman keep the damned third dog without hours of board debate and a year-long process.
He has also had the initiative to at least throw a few creative ideas out there for consideration even if they are not recommended by staff. For instance, whether or not you agree with them, he suggested including alternate revenue-generating strategies in the budget?#34;a critical document that always seems to leave the door pretty much exactly the way staff walked it in.
Furthermore, he is more committed than any candidate to transparent government. We're not on the "inside," but we believe there are too many executive sessions at village hall. We believe his commitment to transparency (and, frankly, his sense of humor) will help alleviate some of the tension and community anxiety that is festering in Oak Park. And we've been deeply disturbed by the inability of trustees to get policy items on the agenda without a presidential blessing, and we have confidence he'll change that.
We also believe he has the clearest vision for where he wants to take Oak Park.
The downsides? His ego is both fragile and overlarge. From the moment he walked in our office door he was quoting criticisms penned in letters to the editor. Not a good sign. We have to trust that he could grow, again, into the role of president?#34;that he could shed the loud, dissenting voice routine, and actually lead. We also have to trust that he will get along with his fellow trustees. His immature, nasty, banter with Trustee Ray Johnson and Village President Joanne Trapani has especially concerned us over the last two years. However, we believe they are just as much to blame for the nastiness, and it has not been as overtly "political" as some have painted it.
We have concerns that he is sometimes too influenced by the voices around him. For instance, we find it somewhat disturbing that he would, by all accounts, enthusiastically support the RSC project in executive session, and then passionately bash it after public outcry.
Personality quirks aside, we must also note that though we have often agreed with him, we do not agree on all fronts. We support the extension of the downtown TIF; he doesn't. We are enthusiastic about the downtown plan, and we hope that he won't leave it sitting and collecting dust on a shelf.
Overall, however, we think Milstein has the potential to be an unusually good village president.
And Bob, if you are elected and you let us down, we're prepared to pour lots of ink into nailing you to the wall.
? David Pope is certainly a very close second for us.
He is, possibly, more intelligent than our entire editorial board put together. We have no doubt that he will treat all trustees with respect, and that he has a good shot at bridging some of the divides between board members, and between the board and the community.
He will work well with staff and at the same time move the board more toward a policy-setting role. He embodies many of the qualities we value in a presidential candidate.
So why not endorse him? While we very much respect his rational approach to decision-making, it also gives us pause. He sincerely believes he can academically examine all sides and consider all information available and keep the village moving at a quick clip.
We, however, have real fears that he will pick at every nit. He is long-winded at board meetings, and we fear he will rely more on?#34;and relate better to?#34;facts, figures, plans and process, than the real concerns of real people in Oak Park.
Can he clear this hurdle easier than Milstein can overcome grandstanding and a fragile ego? Maybe. But we're just not quite sure enough.
? Diana Carpenter openly admits that she didn't earn her trustee salary during her first two years in office and we agree. She says she's made it up during the last two years, when she has worked to get a lot of serious business done behind the scenes?#34;including getting Robinson's Ribs moved into the village-owned building at Chicago and Austin. As for "making up for it," we're not so sure if that's even a valid concept.
She does have a no-nonsense approach to decision-making that we appreciate. She has a thick skin, and she's in the race to get things accomplished, qualities not to be dismissed. We appreciate her commitment to speaking up for multi-family building owners and renters.
However, we have a significant philosophical difference with her: we just don't believe this is a time for a weaker presidential model. We also feel she suffers to a notable degree from "village staff worship," and will not move trustees into a stronger policy-making role. While she does, as we said, have a thick skin, we don't know if she can effectively reach out to some board members, most notably Milstein.
Diana Carpenter is a good person who both before she became a trustee, and we believe, when she is no longer on the village board, will have an important role to play. Her leadership on both sides of Austin Boulevard is unique and vital.